‘It’s my house, not yours,’ declares property manager.
by Carol Harvey
As Phase One of Treasure Island redevelopment gets under way, the Island’s subsidized and market rate residents are experiencing increasing intimidation and harassment and fewer services.
With the Starburst Barracks and other structures demolished, Yerba Buena Island and the side of Treasure Island facing San Francisco under construction, most street lights along Avenue of the Palms are out. At night, drivers flash their high beams to navigate the dark.
After the Navy decommissioned the island, from 1998 to 2000, homeless people were enticed from City streets to the vacated apartments on Treasure Island and, without their knowledge, subjected to radiation and chemical poisons for their rent money. As rents from the new Yerba Buena condominiums come on line, Treasure Island power brokers’ need for subsidized and market rate rents to continue financing island maintenance and redevelopment will diminish.
Already, tenants in both Catholic Charities and Community Housing Partnership supportive housing are telling me they are being pressured to move from their town homes with yards where their kids can play to undesirable mean-street locations in San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Mission districts. Some have already been forced out.
Writes Bizjournal, “Current market-rate tenants have slowly been moving out as their leases expire and the infrastructure work ramps up.”
The John Stewart Co., a Treasure Island Development Administration (TIDA) partner, offering both market rate and subsidized rentals, expects lower-paying renters to vacate as new, more lucrative homes are built.
In this changing circumstance, The John Stewart Co. has begun to manifest the most abusive management style in its 17-year island history.
Impoverished and people of color at risk for homelessness whom The John Stewart Co. seduced to the island as early as 2000 insist the company’s harassment campaign was operational from the start.
Burned out of her Bayview home, my resident Treasure Island interviewee, like others, was accepted for a three-year tenancy. She reports they were told residents would have to move off the island in three years to make way for “hotels.” Treasure Island Development Administration board members didn’t anticipate it would take 17 years.
“It was like the plantation during slavery,” she said. Stewart employees pressured her to spy on neighbors for “infractions.” People couldn’t have relaxed backyard conversations for fear someone was eavesdropping.
After the tenant rejected this snitch campaign, she was relentlessly harassed. Hired stalkers phoned her threatening, “You have to move.” John Stewart’s attorney used false accusations to trick the resident into an early eviction.
Fast forward to the present: John Stewart employees, property manager Dan Stone, his receptionist, Dale Coleman, and Sashir, his maintenance supervisor, according to Island residents, can be hostile and unprofessional.
Stone sends manipulative, inarticulate emails and letters to “whiners,” followed by a mishmash of inadequate, poorly-accomplished maintenance non-repairs.
Previously, we wrote about John Stewart project manager Max Garcia unconstitutionally using police to barge into Felita Sample’s home and sexually harassing her.
Now, Damian Ochoa, a seven-year market rate renter in good standing at John Stewart’s “The Villages,” describes intensifying “habitability issues,” amounting to prohibited Eighth Amendment “cruel and unusual punishment,” officiated over by John Stewart Property Manager Dan Stone. According to Nolo Legal Encyclopedia, “In many states, including California and Vermont, the implied warranty of habitability is … whether the premises are ‘fit and habitable’ or ‘fit for human occupation.’” (Read previous stories about Damian here and here.)
Toxic mold! No heat! A flood damaging his valuables! Even hordes of insects. Damian has been tormented by bedbug, silverfish and pincer bug infestations. Now, a spider bite has caused left leg cellulitis that prevents his working.
This March, Stone visited Damian’s apartment to assess compensation for three months of breakdowns and life-threatening maintenance failures. On that occasion, Stone’s well-chosen words told Damian that, in effect, Stone channels John Stewart’s power. Stone feels he is permitted to tell both subsidized and market rate tenants they have no jurisdiction or standing in their homes and to torture them where they live.
The John Stewart Co. describes itself as the 27th largest developer of affordable housing in the U.S. and the largest in California. As absolute dictator, John Stewart – and Stone by proxy – “owns” the people who live in its housing, lock, stock and barrel.
Damian’s nightmare – leading to this pronouncement by Dan Stone – began during the holidays.
Damian Ochoa suffers bedbug infestation and the hellish eradication process.
In November 2016, Damian discovered bedbugs in his Chinook Court, Treasure Island, townhouse’s second bedroom.
Eighteen years of clinical social work in San Francisco taught Damian that bedbug eradication “is more difficult than moving.”
He knew these vicious little vampires feed off human – not animal – blood on which they can live for a year, that they lurk, un-electrocuted, in outlets, that they jump everywhere.
Damian immediately gathered and zip-tied clothing and all washables inside white Hefty trash bags.
Bedbugs thrive in the dark. Damian flipped every switch, added lights, sealed off the bedroom.
Damian’s mother, petrified she might carry bedbugs back to her Palm Springs home, cancelled a holiday visit.
A City and County of San Francisco ordinance states, when bedbugs are discovered, the property manager is responsible for eradication.
The Department of Public Health mandates an initial inspection verifying bedbugs, followed by three treatments two weeks apart. Two weeks after the third treatment, a final inspection ensures the insects are gone.
Damian immediately left Dan Stone a message at “The Villages.”
Work-order specialist and receptionist Dale Coleman arranged for an inspector the following day. Within the 72-hour time limit, he found bedbugs in the second bedroom.
Treatment One was scheduled for Thanksgiving week, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.
“From Friday morning to Monday morning at 9:00 o’clock” – 36 hellish hours – Damian inspected everything for bedbugs.
“I meticulously washed and dried all clothing at the highest setting, twist-tied shut everything in white Hefty bags.
“Any wood-bearing item – frames, desks, drawers – was visually inspected, everything on them and in them removed, bagged and sealed.”
Damian dared not miss a single bug trapped accidentally in a plastic bag.
Everything must remain sealed for six weeks.
The insecticide’s toxicity meant “my fish tank had to be covered, animals removed. After treatments, no one could enter the apartment for five hours. I had to open all the windows and sit outside for an additional hour.”
For six weeks, Nov. 21 to Dec. 22, Damian was a prisoner in his home.
Each time he exited and entered, he had to strip to his underwear outside and zip-tie his outerwear in a white Hefty bag. He then removed his underwear inside, zip-tying it in a second bag.
A third zip-tied bag held clothes pre-washed and dried at the highest temperature. He extracted these clothes and dressed again.
Until the series of treatments was completed, there was a chance bedbugs remained. He could wear the second set of inside clothes when he went outside. But, on re-entry, to prevent re-infestation, he had to repeat removing and bagging these clothes.
John Stewart staff is “nothing but rude, short, condescending, unprofessional and downright mean.”
The inspector didn’t show for the first treatment at 9:00 a.m., Monday, Dec. 5. Damian phoned the company. It was rescheduled to Thursday, Dec. 9.
Dale Coleman chastised Damian “in a rude, unprofessional tone,” saying Damian had no business calling the bedbug inspector. Everything was supposed to go through Dale.
Damian told Dale the inspector had left the company’s number with him without naming Dale the sole information conduit. However, since Dale had “taken charge,” Damian asked him for dates and times of inspections.
Damian feels Coleman’s controlling approach replicates John Stewart’s management style. He describes Dale as “rude, short, condescending, unprofessional – downright mean.”
When Damian has complained to Stone about Dale’s “demeanor, tone, attitude,” Stone says, “Sometimes he can be short, but he does a good job. It’s not intentional. It’s not directed at you.”
“Not directed at me?” Damian begged to differ!
Other residents report similar treatment. Abuse seems condoned, even encouraged, in John Stewart’s hierarchy.
The third treatment never happened.
Within 30 days, the company must conduct a final follow-up bedbug inspection to verify bedbugs are completely gone. Coleman said he scheduled this inspection for Jan. 5.
Silverfish appeared. Damian requested another inspection.
The silverfish investigator told Damian the follow-up bedbug inspection was actually Jan. 12.
“As of today,” said Damian, “there has been no final bedbug inspection.”
Death by poisoning, explosion or fire
Death by poisoning, explosion or fire
Then the heating unit started rattling.
Villages maintenance head, Sashir, advised filter replacement.
But, the knocking got louder – so loud that Damian feared the motor would explode.
Sashir ordered a heater, motor and furnace specialist from Action Furnace Edmonton company.
Next day, when Damian pulled out of his driveway for work, Sashir arrived with the specialist.
Damian told him, “You can access the apartment. Please make sure my cat doesn’t escape and lock the door.”
“All day and night that Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it rained.” On Thursday night or early Friday morning, freezing weather woke Damian. “I was bone-chilled cold.”
He recalled setting the automated digital heater at 70. But it was off. He clicked it higher.
He opened the door. No motor!
“Like a car with no engine,” said Damian, “the heater wouldn’t work with no motor.
“I had not been informed.” Damian was livid – “fit to be tied!”
He grabbed as many blankets and comforters as he could. “I bundled myself up with a box of Kleenex and sneezed and blew my nose. I caught a cold and could not go to work for the next two days.”
Friday rolled around.
“I heard not a word from property management,” over the weekend. Maintenance boss Sashir lives across the street, 200 feet from me.
“I was upset! There was no heat. No portable heaters, nothing to make me whole, to hold me over.”
Damian was truly “out in the cold.”
Damian could not call the office ‘til Monday.
On Monday, March 6, 2017, at 11:30 a.m., Damian called Dale.
“Oh!” said Dale, as if surprised. “Nobody brought you portable heaters? I’ll get someone to send you two out right away.”
Six hours later, Sashir brought heaters.
When Damian plugged them in, “Dust, dirt,” “offensive burning smoke,” and “dirty dog hair smelling like a dog that hadn’t been washed, rolled around in mud and run amuck with 101 Dalmatians” came reeking out of the unusable heaters. He stowed them outside for maintenance to pick up.
The heater motor specialist arrived Friday, Dec. 10, at 1:15. He refigured the wires and equipment. The smoke alarm sounded. A chemical smell almost caused Damian – sick with a cold and cough – to vomit.
“What’s going on?”
The specialist waved his hands past the smoke detectors. “Fumes.” He said, “This will pass. I had to connect the wires. It’s all the dust and dirt and the chemicals and stuff.”
He told Damian, “This is totally unsafe. They didn’t tell you there was no motor? The gas could have combusted and caused a fire. You could have died from carbon monoxide coming out of there.”
Damian felt physically ill at The John Stewart Co.’s “lack of respect and professionalism in failing to notify him, a paying resident in good standing, about conditions deemed so uninhabitable by the state of California” that they could have killed him.
Here she calls again
“A new little critter appeared looking like a miniature pincer,” crawling around in the kitchen, the bedrooms, the bathroom.
“I put them in a bag. I don’t want to be accused of ‘crazy’ over-exaggerating and making things up.”
Dan Stone and his management and maintenance staff habitually assume a mocking, exasperated “face” at Damian’s maintenance requests.
Damian replayed their attitude, “Here she calls again. Let’s see what this is about. I’m sure it’s nothing. Just trying to waste our time.”
But, Damian had been correct about the rattling, dangerous heater.
Damian emailed Stone that he would have been satisfied with 15 percent of his rent from the date he originally reported the heater’s noise and malfunction. But, for the nine days without heat, he deserved a full refund at $61 dollars a day.
Stone decided “my having no heat for nine days was worth only 15 percent of my daily rate for rent. I was reimbursed a whole $100 dollars and some change.”
However, Damian refused to waste emotional energy arguing with Dan. “As a clinician, a human being, an advocate, I know my rights and what falls under uninhabitable conditions.”
But then came the flood
Then came the flood.
The contractor Stone hired to install flooring in Damian’s upstairs neighbors’ apartment failed to reinsert the washing machine hose. Not realizing water would flood their floor, seeping through the sheetrock into Damian’s garage, the neighbors loaded laundry and left.
Filthy water poured through the floor and sheetrock into Damian’s garage, flowing in a 10- to 12-foot-wide stream under the garage door and down the driveway.
“Antique tables, antique clocks, clothing! Childhood books, graduate school books!” Everything was soaked.
“I called the Maintenance Hotline. Sashir said he’d be over,” but sent unfamiliar maintenance men. “Where is the leak?” one asked.
Damian was exasperated. “Can’t you see the sheetrock bubbling? Water all over the place?”
“I gotta wait for Sashir.”
Damian had to go to work. “Lock the garage door,” he said. “Do what you guys do as maintenance people and let me know.’
“All they did was go in there and throw stuff around” – like a working 40-inch flat screen TV.
They deposited two fans, locked the garage and left. “To this day, right now, March 24 at 1:12 a.m., those fans are sitting in my garage – running.”
Damian claimed $400 compensation from April’s rent.
His last nerve
Damian suspected Stone wouldn’t cut through the sheetrock to check the garage for mold. He emailed Stone not to refuse to take this precaution. “It’s damp. It’s cold. It’s black in that garage. I’m not going to deal with another mold and mildew issue like I did at my previous location and here.”
Insisting on a visual inspection of the water damage, Stone brought assistant Charles Wong the next day.
“Dan told me that the clothing that had been damaged looked like it was worth $2,000 – which it is. He verified that the rocking chair did look like an antique that could be worth $5,000.
“He told me that the antique tables – that I needed to get everything out of there” (the garage).
Damian had carried the three antique clocks inside for cleaning. Stone wanted to argue their worth and damage.
“You’re not a clock expert,” Damian said. “You know nothing about antiques. I will take them to an antique dealer. I will get him to put it in writing and charge you for his appraisal.”
Because Damian hadn’t seen Stone for over a year, he needed to discuss everything:
- illness from no heat,
- poison, explosion and fire danger,
- damaged antiques, clothes, personal belongings,
Damian was on his last nerve.
Stone yelled at him. “I’m not going to listen to you rant and rave!”
“Then, get out of my house!” said Damian.
Stone’s face turned bright red. He yelled, “This is my house, not yours.”
Stone’s face turned bright red. He yelled, “This is my house, not yours.”
For Damian, Dan Stone’s infuriating contention that the security of Damian’s home, like his soul, actually belonged to his rapacious, abusive landlord, “is outrageous, egregious, unprofessional, unethical, uncalled-for and a complete lie!”
“No one physically owns those buildings,” said Damian. “They’re all going to be torn down for wetlands and estuary. TIDA – the City and County of San Francisco – has not paid off the next $500 million to outright own all of Treasure Island because the federal government – the Navy – hasn’t finished doing their cleanup of all their toxic chemicals and radiation.
“The reality is that property manager Stone owns nothing.” He’s lucky that, when he didn’t like being moved from his Yerba Buena Island hilltop for the construction down into toxic, run down Treasure Island housing, he was allowed to relocate back up to Yerba Buena Island on the Coast Guard side.
Over the last seven years, Damian developed respiratory illness from toxic mold The John Stewart Co. failed to cure. He’s suffered four bug infestations, breathed toxic insecticides.
Now, in April 2017, Damian has developed left leg cellulitis after a spider bite which is preventing him from working.
He’s received insufficient reimbursement for illness when the company provided no heat.
They removed the heater motor without telling him. The missing heater exposed him to a possible death by carbon monoxide poisoning, explosion or fire.
Villages’ maintenance errors destroyed thousands of dollars of valuable antique furniture, clothing and memorabilia.
Finally, “Along with years of insults and harassment, I’ve been hassled to the point where I have anxiety attacks and nightmares. I’ve been treated unprofessionally and with the kind of disrespect no one deserves.
“That is my nightmare on Chinook Court, orchestrated, directed, produced, underwritten, financed, by property manager Dan Stone.”
“I’m sick of it. I’ve had it.” Damian struggles to maintain his sense of humor, but can’t quite do it.
“Like Judge Milly says,” he declares. “Stick a fork in me. I’m done!”
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.